[OPE-L] A startling quotation from Engels

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Tue Aug 21 2007 - 09:39:37 EDT

I agree with Ian Wright that "a lot of confusion is generated by the use of
the word "value" in many different contexts."

I can think of 6 causes for that in the writing of Marx & Engels:

1) their views evolved over time, and therefore sometimes are not perfectly
consistent (despite Kliman).
2) many manuscripts to which we now have access, were drafts not published
by the author.
3) value takes many different "forms" (a "form" being a characteristic of an
object as a whole, which is irreducible to its constituent parts).
4) there are sometimes conflicts in translation to English, between a
literal rendering and what is contextually appropriate.
5) The term "value" is often used by M/E as a shorthand or abbreviation for
value in a specific form.
6) The phenomena of value contain a unity of opposites, and can be
understood fully only in motion (dynamically)

However, the basic value-concepts which Marx had, show a remarkable degree
of consistency nevertheless. Concerning abstract labour, Marx states
specifically in "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" (a
published work) that:

"This abstraction, human labour in general, exists in the form of average
labour which, in a given society, the average person can perform, productive
expenditure of a certain amount of human muscles, nerves, brain, etc. It is
simple labour [English economists call it "unskilled labour"] which any
average individual can be trained to do and which in one way or another he
has to perform. The characteristics of this average labour are different in
different countries and different historical epochs, but in any particular
society it appears as something given."

It is again clear from this passage, that Marx himself did NOT think
abstract labour was unique to any particular type of society, but also, that
the precise form which that abstract labour might be expressed could
historically differ. The very category of abstract labour, therefore, was
not a fixed and immutable category, but had to be interpreted differently,
depending on the given type of society being studied.

Consistent with this view, Marx writes a little later:

To begin with, [the commodity] can be materialisation of universal
labour-time only when it represents a particular useful application of
labour-time, that is a use-value. This is the material condition under which
alone the labour-time contained in commodities is regarded as universal,
social labour-time.

It's again clear from this, that the existence of exchange-value for a
product of labour is NOT a precondition for the existence of abstract labour
as such. Instead, exchange value MEDIATES the existence of abstract labour,
by bridging the production and consumption of a use-value.

When Isaac Rubin discussed the concept of abstract labour, he in fact
developed further Marx's concept, and tried to make it more consistent and
coherent, with some success (he distinguishes between physical equivalence,
social equivalence and market equivalence). However, Rubin is quite mistaken
when he concludes:

"In Marx's system, the concept of abstract labor is inseparably related to
the basic characteristics of the commodity economy."

That is precisely what is not true, and in fact it does not follow from his
own analysis of the three ways in which different labours are equated. The
reality is that a socialist economy has to develop new norms for valuing
labour, but this happened to be a politically highly-charged topic at the
time Rubin was writing.


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